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Blair creating courthouse preservation committee

Group would advise on ways to protect historic portions of the building

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County commissioners are creating an advisory committee with members — to be appointed — who will play a key role in protecting the older portion of the county’s courthouse.

“I hope this keeps us away from what happened in the past,” Commissioners Chairman Bruce Erb said after he and fellow commissioners voted during a recent meeting in favor of creating the Blair County Historic Courthouse Preservation Advisory Committee.

Before initiating what turned into five years of repairs and restoration work to the older side of the county’s most recognizable structure, a 2014 study advised county leaders that the courthouse was falling apart. Because of longtime neglected water leaks and improper repairs, commissioners were advised that without measures to initiate repairs, the portion of the courthouse built in 1875 and expanded in 1906 would continue on a path toward demolition.

As five years of repairs and restoration near an end, Commissioner Terry Tomassetti asked fellow commissioners about forming an advisory committee to prevent neglect from occurring again and to render guidance on what comes next.

Additional measures have already been recommended to address the roof and drainage routes on the 1906 structure and the courthouse’s clocktower, Tomassetti said. In addition, the clocktower’s clock has four faces displaying different times and the clock, dismantled during the renovations, no longer chimes.

The committee’s scope of duties, Tomassetti suggested, could be patterned after the Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee, which focuses on that building’s assets and how they’re maintained and preserved. But unlike the state committee, which has access to a fund to undertake initiatives, Blair County’s group will be advisory only to commissioners who hold the purse strings.

After Tomassetti suggested creating the committee, Erb and fellow commissioner Ted Beam Jr. asked questions about the scope of the group’s responsibilities and membership.

In voting to create the committee, commissioners settled on language that limits the committee’s focus to artifacts, documents and other historical objects and resources located within or associated with the 1875 and 1906 portions of the courthouse.

That means the committee will have no input into non-historic structures, including the 1999 portion of the courthouse. It’s targeted in 2020 for some maintenance improvements as a follow-up to installation, earlier this year, of a new roof.

When discussing the committee’s formation, Beam also asked about requiring the county administrator and director of public works to be committee members.

Tomassetti described County Administrator Helen Schmitt and Director of Public Works Rocky Greenland as valuable contributors to the Courthouse Oversight Preservation Team. That group developed while renovations were ongoing to the 1875 and 1906 portions of the courthouse and depended on Tomassetti to advise fellow commissioners of their recommendations. Beside Schmitt, Greenland and Tomassetti, others on the Courthouse Oversight Preservation Team were Judge Jolene G. Kopriva, project architect David Albright and local conservator John Rita.

When voting to create the new committee, commissioners settled on five members — the president judge or designee, a member of the commissioners board and three members, with the inclusion of individuals with experience in the restoration of monumental buildings or a background in historical restoration or fine arts conservation, who will be appointed by commissioners.

The county administrator and director of public works, or their assistants, are to attend all committee meetings but will not be members.

Once the committee is appointed, members are expected to hold regular meetings that will be advertised and open to the public. A main responsibility will be the development and annual presentation of a three- to five-year comprehensive plan and program for historic preservation and restoration of the courthouse.

Duties also require committee members to look for grants and subsidies from public and private sources that could be used for preservation and restoration efforts. But the application process for pursuit of that money is to rest with the commissioners’ office.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.

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